What the Modern Internet Means for Advertisers

Brands Need to Supply Quality Content, Not Just Ads, As Feeds Dominate

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The internet is undergoing a dramatic visual and structural shift. Examples of the modern internet are all around us. Stalwart media properties like Yahoo! and CNN have completely revamped their site design to center around a news feed, social platforms have committed to feed-based monetization strategies, and modern sites like Medium and Branch have succeeded by offering immediate and intuitive options for the right users at the right time.

The modern internet is driven by design. Despite the incredibly intricate algorithms required, the goal is to create sites and applications that are devoid of clutter and complication. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and creator of Twitter, uses the Golden Gate Bridge to explain this dichotomy: "We see the bridge as like this perfect intersection between art and engineering. It has pure utility, in that people commute on it every single day. When people come to Twitter and they want to express something in the world, the technology fades away. It's them writing a simple message and them knowing that people are going to see it."

What do these changes mean for a digital advertising industry that still heavily relies on the display and banner ads of internet past? Advertisers must adapt to the form and function of the modern internet. This means understanding its hallmark characteristics like feed-based content consumption and mobile-first design, and then creating content, not ads, that adds value to the user experience. Below are five pillars of the modern internet and what digital advertisers must do to keep pace.

All Content Will Be Consumed In-Feed. Modern content is discovered through curated feeds, not a web of single pages. Feed-based layouts the most efficient way to take in content on a phone and the best way to keep a site's homepage fresh on any platform. The news-feed trend is driving website redesigns of all major publishers. From NPR to Tumblr, modern platforms have adopted feed-centric sites because that's how modern consumers consume content. Modern advertisers must distribute brand content integrated in a way with which people can engage and natively incorporate the units into the natural form and function of sites' content feeds.

All Design Will Be Stripped of Ornamental Clutter. Modern design emphasizes simplicity and functionality. From the flat design of iOS 7 to the simple tile UX of Pinterest, modern content websites are boiled down to the essential. On modern sites like the new USA Today, articles are displayed within lightboxes so users can navigate in and out of content without friction. For advertisers, the challenge is to create content that is unobtrusive, but also adds value to the consumer. Advertisers must construct seamlessly integrated, non-interruptive, purpose-driven advertising or the ad will be an unwelcomed disturbance.

All Sites Will Be Optimized for Cross-Platform Integration. Modern sites have a cohesive look across desktop, mobile and tablet, but feel individually constructed for each device. Publishers have started to embrace clean-design layouts that offer users a similar experience on all devices. The New York Times Skimmer is a prime example of responsive design and optimized layouts, while maintaining the offline feel of the news. Advertisers must be conscious of the device hosting the content and consider cross-device campaign strategy that allows for holistic data sharing.

All Ads Will Be Treated As Content. Modern ads can enhance a user experience, not detract from it. Our new consumption habits prove that when ads are good, they can perform at parity with natural content. The reason that this College Humor ad for Vitamin Water is in the top five most watched of the year and that this BuzzFeed article for Harper Collins has been viewed over 1 million times is simple. These publishers and brands have come together to create quality content. The combination of quality content, integrated placements and social sharing has not only bolstered brands' content marketing efforts, but demonstrated to consumers that ads can add value to their lives.

All Content Will Have Forums For Conversation. Modern user experiences do not live within the walls of editorial. Participation and interactivity are becoming increasingly important parts of sites and demanding more viewer attention. Consumers want to express their opinions and technology is allowing meaningful discussion to rise above trolls. Gawker demonstrated respect for user comments by implementing an ad unit within the comments section of its Gizmodo site. This isn't to say that the future of the web is full of ad-ridden comment sections. However, publishers and brands will provide the content to spark enthusiasm and the canvas to continue the conversation.

Patrick Keane is president of Sharethrough and former CEO of Associated Content.
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